What is the carbon footprint of the internet and streaming?

If you have spent more time online than usual lately – you are not alone! Especially streaming has had almost exponential growth, as our consumption patterns of movies and series has been revolutionized by online services. Have you ever wondered if all the hours on Netflix actually have a carbon footprint? We dig into the details!

Powering the internet uses a massive amount of energy, from the remote data centers all the way to the power of the device that you are reading this on. The scope of it makes it incredibly challenging to calculate, and even when we do, the numbers are almost too large to grasp – the carbon footprint of YouTube has been estimated to 10 000 000 tonnes CO2e. What can be said is that the internet is currently responsible for 2 percent of global carbon emissions, and this is because 80% of the energy used to run it comes from fossil fuels. This is basically the same amount as the emissions from the aviation sector! But let’s not forget, this also has to be put into perspective of the emissions that are avoided elsewhere – all the physical letters not sent thanks to emails and online bank services, just to give an example (although we all could probably reduce the number of emails we send and receive!).

All your screens are in dialogue with remote data centers. Photo by Domenico Loia

What is really booming on the internet right now is major streaming services. Almost 58% of downstream traffic on the internet is video, and Netflix alone held almost 20% of the traffic in the US in 2018 – a number that is probably not decreasing. So what is the carbon footprint of this?

Let’s start by saying that the carbon footprint of streaming is lower than driving to the cinema to watch a film there. This is not an argument to make people stop streaming, but to understand how our small actions add up to a big impact and that we should take responsibility – both for our own behavior, but also to encourage providers to do everything in their power to optimize operations.

A French think tank called the Shift Project first made some pretty horrifying calculations on this, estimating that watching 30 min of Netflix is equivalent to 1,6 kg of CO2 emissions. However, it seems like they based it on some wrong assumptions, as George Kamiya, Digital/Energy Analyst at the International Energy Association points out. According to his calculations and official IEA data, streaming a Netflix video in 2019 typically consumed 0.12-0.24kWh of electricity per hour, which is between 25 and 53 times less than the Shift Project estimation. So if we use the emission factor for the global average energy mix, that would give a carbon footprint of 0,028 – 0,057 kg (28 – 57 grams) CO2e for a 30 min Netflix session. Less than the carbon footprint of a banana!

So, it’s not actually that bad to watch Netflix (or, sending one email). However, we should consider how much traffic we generate, because it really does add up. Don’t leave things on in the background. If you listen to music, do so from a program that only gives you the music, and not the video stream (yeah, playing YouTube on another tab than the one you are watching is wasteful!). Pause videos that start just because you are scrolling on a page. Unsubscribe from all the newsletters that you don’t read anyway.

Do you need to use several devices at the same time?

But more importantly, we need to make better IT design. How can we optimize data transfers? Do we need to send as much as we do? It will be both faster, cheaper and better for the environment if we can implement sustainable interaction design! Researchers from Bristol University suggested that digital waste could be reduced if YouTube stopped playing the video when the window isn’t open – and that this could save up to 500 000 tonnes of CO2e per year! And streamlining solutions like this one could potentially be found anywhere, helping us all to keep emissions from digitalization under control.

Do you work in IT? Could you design better systems to slim down the quantities of data that are being sent across the internet? Exciting challenges ahead of you!

If you want to read even more, start HERE (medium article)

When it sucks to be eco-friendly (and why we choose it anyway)

In the sustainability movement, we are a dedicated bunch who choose to complicate our lives out of the conviction that it is necessary to make the world a better place. Then, we try to make the non-believers join us by convincing them that it’s fun and easy, and you save money too! Right?! It is an appealing narrative and there is definitely truth to it, but we who try to break new ground also get exhausted from walking through a jungle of resistance.

My old laptop was giving up on me. I had bought it in 2013, and have carried it across continents, literally. It had worked in the heat in southern Africa, in the hights of the Andean mountains and in the dampness of Brussels. I had already replaced the screen (I bought a replacement on Amazon and had my friend perform surgery on it for hours) and exchanged the battery once, but I could no longer resuscitate it.

I was offered to buy a Macbook second hand from a friend, some nine months ago. And he had told me there was some issue with the keyboard but he also gave me a discount to account for that. So I paid 2500 sek (approx 250 usd) for the computer, knowing that a repair could add another 2000 sek (200 usd). I was happy to have found a second hand computer, knowing that the production and mining for minerals is a dirty business that I don’t want to support if I can avoid it. Sure, the computer was old, but in good condition and given that I am not a heavy user, I thought I’d be fine.

Working on the train and using the accessibility keyboard to compensate for the broken buttons

When I started working for GoClimate a few months later, they asked me if I needed a computer. But as I had just gotten the Macbook, what was the point of buying another one? That would totally defy my purpose of trying to save resources.

I was fine, for a little while. Then, the number buttons stopped working. Given that a lot of my work is done in Excel, this became a big hindrance. I prayed that it would go away, but of course it didn’t and I had to hand it in for service. It took them some 10 days, but they exchanged some parts and charged me 2280 sek (230 usd) and I thought, ok, now I’m fine. Except the problem came back the following week and now I’m being charged another 2200 sek (220 usd) to replace another part. Adding it up, it’s costing almost as much as a new Macbook, and I am now on my third week of working on a borrowed laptop that is… far from ideal.

About a year ago, I broke my beloved Kindle reading tablet. Living abroad, I used it a lot to read books I couldn’t get hold of in store. I still spent 6 months trying to figure out if I could fix it (warranty expired), if it was worth ordering a new screen from Hong Kong, if I could buy a second hand one (the guy in the sales group ghosted me when I asked too many questions so I’m guessing it might have been stolen)… In then end, I found that Amazon actually sells refurbished items. I ordered one from there but since they don’t ship to Sweden, I had it sent to a friend in the UK. Once I could pick it up, turns out the model I had ordered (the only one available) is older than the one I was used to and it has no back light, which seriously reduces the usability for me… so I actually read less now than I did before.

When I used to go to cafés to read on my kindle and drink matcha latte

All of this leaves me with frustration and a bitter taste. I wish I did not have to deal with this, but electronics have become a necessity in society. My argument to keep pushing for this is that I genuinely believe that to make the world a better place, it is my duty to act in accordance with my values especially when it is uncomfortable. Change is not just gonna happen, someone has to do it. Someone has to create a demand for those second hand products, for the replacement parts, for the service centers. I’m that someone.

So now that my phone is becoming too tired to handle new apps, and I have spent the winter in Stockholm freezing my fingers off waiting for the maps to load, I’m searching for a second hand one. I’m hopeful about the Swedish company Inrego who sells second hand, refurbished electronics, and I’m consulting my tech-savvy colleague. Because that is who I am – the hippie eco-warrior who choose discomfort to live in harmony with my values and the hope to make the world a better place. Please join me.

PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE

what is planned obsolescence made to break


British Dictionary definitions for planned obsolescence:

The policy of deliberately limiting the life of a product in order to encourage the purchaser to replace it: Also called: built-in obsolescence.

THERE ARE DIFFERENT TYPES OF PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE

Contrived durability

This kind of planned obsolescence is of using physical material that will break or deteriorate faster than other options.

An example of this in electronics is for producers to purposely choose to use cheap plastic or soft metals that have a shorter lifespan than other alternatives and therefore making the product less durable.

Prevention of repair

This a well known planned obsolescence used by for example Apple, where it’s hard to repair or change battery, where you need special tools to even unscrew the screws used in the devices making it even harder for customers to repair themselves.

When the products are made difficult to impossible to repair yourself, it is often cheaper to buy a new product than to pay a specialist to repair it.

Batteries is one of the most common pieces of electronics that are prevented to be repaired. While the design of phones for example can be thinner when the battery is placed in a way to be irreplaceable, making the phone itself stuck with an aging battery and therefor losing it’s quality while the rest of the phone is still fully functioning.

The lowered battery performance is often one of the main reasons people feel the need to renew to a new phone, since getting a new battery isn’t a choice, and in many cases if it is replaces the warranty of the product can be lost.

PS. Are you looking to lower your carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable world? We would love to help! Take responsibility for the carbon footprint of your lifestyle now!

Perceived obsolescence

This is an obsolescence where consumers are made to think their product is no longer desirable or that it is old and out of fashion.

This is very common in fast fashion but also in the technology business, especially when in comes to mobile phones. Releasing new models once or more a year, with slightly better software or slightly different design quickly makes your new phone several seasons old.

Systemic obsolescence

This technique is to systematically make a product obsolete by altering systems or functions that won’t work with the older products.

Such as no longer being able to maintain or where the manufacturer stop supporting the systems.

Some examples:

New software updates that don’t work on older models or where old software programs don’t work on newer models as deliberate choice by the manufacturers.

Another example is where they remove their service to repair products of a certain age, and this is typically a problem with products that are designed not to be repaired by the consumer. Like with a built in battery for example.

However, luckily there are third parties who offer their service to repair most type of technology.

Programmed obsolescence

This is a very lucrative kind of obsolescence, where the products are programmed to stop functioning after a certain amount of uses. Such as x hours of use or x amount of printed papers on a printer.

Obsolescence by depletion

This example is where the products rely on secondary consumables.

One of the most common examples of this is the toners for printers that seem to come in an infinite amount of shapes. The manufacturers stop producing ink/toners for printer models after a certain amount of time, making it harder to find toners for your specific printer with time. Ending up creating a need to get an entirely new printer.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO COMBAT PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE?

France has recently taken strong measures against planned obsolescence, and businessmen will be liable to prison sentences and companies will be liable to fines of up to €300,000 if these kinds of practices are found to be performed.

  • Demand longer warranties for the products and spare parts guaranteed.
  • Recycle our electronic waste properly and demand manufacturers eliminate dangerous substances contained in these products.
  • Support those brands who are creating products that are made to last.
  • Don’t buy new. Go for second hand and vote with your dollars that you do not want to take part in this environmentally destructive business plan.

FOR MORE POSTS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF ELECTRONICS:

E-WASTE


MORE ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF ELECTRONICS COMING SOON:

MINING FOR MINERALS

INTERNET IS BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

MODERN SLAVERY IN THE ELECTRONICS INDURSTY

PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE

PS. And remember, if you are looking to lower your carbon footprint and contribute to a more sustainable world, join us by taking responsibility for the carbon footprint of your lifestyle now!


Sources:

https://www.economist.com/news/2009/03/23/planned-obsolescence

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160612-heres-the-truth-about-the-planned-obsolescence-of-tech

https://study.com/academy/lesson/what-is-planned-obsolescence-definition-examples.html

https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2015/mar/23/were-are-all-losers-to-gadget-industry-built-on-planned-obsolescence

https://www.activesustainability.com/environment/planned-obsolescence-the-serious-problem-of-electronic-waste/

https://lexiconsystems.wordpress.com/tag/systemic-obsolescence/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_obsolescence


This post was written by our blogger Evelina Utterdahl. You can read more about her here

E-WASTE

what is e-waste what happens to electronic waste

ELECTRONIC-WASTE

How often do you buy a new phone?

Do you get a new phone when your old one breaks, is beyond repair or just because you want to update to a more modern one?

What do you do with your old phone, laptop or other electronics when they no longer serve you purpose? Do they stay tucked in a drawer somewhere in the house, do you sell it, throw it away or recycle it?

Did you know that electronics contains valuable materials like gold, copper, silver and palladium? As well a lot of metals and materials that are harmful for people, animals and the environment?

Photo is a print screen of Evelina on her phone from the ZDF documentary No Plan B

E-WASTE

When electronic products come to the end of their life, they become waste. Electronic waste.

In 2016, around 45 millions tons of electronics were thrown away.

But what happens to the product once it’s discarded of, or preferably recycled? 

“E-Waste is a term used to cover items of all types of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) and its parts that have been discarded by the owner as waste without the intention of re-use.”

WHERE DOES THE E-WASTE GO?

There’s a big chance it is shipped off to or dumped in Guiyu, China or Agbogbloshie, Ghana. Some people do run proper businesses recycling the e-waste that is shipped there according to agreements but in many cases, especially in Ghana a lot of the e-waste is illegally dumped there.

In the EU it is illegal to export e-waste to developing countries, and yet a lot of it does end up in these places anyways.

The way it is illegally imported is in disguise as used electronics (for second hand use) but the shipments are filled with or mixed with irreparable e-waste instead.

HOW IS THE WASTE HANDLED AND BY WHOM

In many places where e-waste ends up, it is poorly paid locals who disassemble the electronic waste, often in unsafe ways using toxic chemicals to separate the valuable components.

Many parts of the waste are also being burned, releasing heavy metals like lead, beryllium and cadmium which pollutes the soil, water and air.

While there are known health risks from dealing with lead and mercury, there has been little research on the effects on health and the environment with many of the other elements used in electronics.

But even when e-waste is recycled in safer conditions in countries like Australia, there’s still a high environmental cost from the industrial smelting.

WHAT CAN WE DO TO MAKE IT BETTER

The first step in making the life cycle of electronics safer and more sustainable, is to make sure the working electronics you have are being used by you or someone else, to make the need for new electronics smaller and to repair what can be fixed.

The second step is to recycle the electronics that are irreparable, and to make sure it is going to a certified e-recycling facility. When recycled, the components that normally takes mining to retrieve can be reused and therefore save resources and some pollution that comes with the mining. If you want to read an in-detail guide to the recycling of electronics, PCLiquidations offers great advice with a specific focus on the US market.

The third step is to stop changing your electronics before they are beyond repair. The cost of electronics is a lot higher than the price you pay in money.


OTHER POSTS ABOUT THE ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT OF ELECTRONICS:

PLANNED OBSOLESCENCE


SOURCES:

https://info.mayermetals.com/blog/5-shocking-environmental-effects-of-e-waste

https://www.forbes.com/sites/vianneyvaute/2018/10/29/recycling-is-not-the-answer-to-the-e-waste-crisis/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_waste

https://www.eterra.com.ng/articles/impacts-e-waste-environment

collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:6349/PiP_Report.pdf


This post was written by our blogger Evelina Utterdahl. You can read more about her here